I have saved these last three surahs for the end as they seemed like they would sum up the Qur’an well.

Surah 112 is precisely such a summation.  Muslim tradition says this minuscule surah is equal to one-third of the entire message of the Qur’an.  Given its emphasis on monotheistic devotion, I can certainly see why people think that.

Say, “He is God the One, God the eternal.  He begot no one nor was He begotten.  No one is comparable to Him.” (112:1-4)

As a Christian, I can’t help but feel that this surah is addressing the trinitarian beliefs of Christianity, and maybe also the pagan beliefs popular in Arabia at the time of the Qur’an.  Nonetheless, there may be no more foundational thought in Islam than this one.

One of the last revelations ever received by Muhammad before his death was Surah 110:

When God’s help comes and He opens up your way [Prophet], when you see people embracing God’s faith in crowds, celebrate the praise of your Lord and ask His forgiveness: He is always ready to accept repentance. (110:1-3)

As one of the final words from Allah, I am struck by this message.  It is prophetic in a sense: there are days coming when people will accept Islam in droves. That will be a reason to celebrate.  Yet the final word of all is an admonition to seek forgiveness and a reassurance that Allah is always ready to receive truly repentant people.  That is such a fitting ending to the Qur’an.  The door to God is always open.  Step through with a repentant heart, and a humble spirit that knows we are always in need of forgiveness.  But it is an open door.  What a welcoming ending.

Interestingly, down at the end of the Qur’an is this realistic surah.  Evidently, a group of pagans had come to Muhammad and proposed a compromise.  They pledged to worship Allah for a year if the Prophet would worship their gods for a year.  Muhammad was told to give this response:

Say [Prophet], “Disbelievers: I do not worship what you worship, you do not worship what I worship, I will never worship what you worship, you will never worship what I worship: you have your religion and I have mine.” (109:1-6)

As I read this surah I couldn’t help but think that these are precisely my sentiments as well.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading closely the Qur’an this past year.  Even more so, I have enjoy the conversations I have had with people that this blog fostered, especially those with the Muslims who took the time to further educate me on their religion.  What is even more clear to me now than it was when I started is how intractable the religious differences are between differing religions.  It was true 1400 years ago when Muhammad spoke to these pagans.  It is true today when Muslims talk with Christians and Jews.  It is true of me as well.  I have an immense amount of respect for the religion of Islam (more on that in the next post).  I found a true zeal in the Muslims who have followed this blog.  I believe we can show love to each other as humans.  I believe we can cooperate with each other in areas of social concern.  I do believe we can learn to coexist in a democratic society that does not assert any religion over another.  But Muslims have their religion and I have mine.  I can’t bring myself to worship God apart from Jesus, and they couldn’t imagine doing so.  We are at an impasse.

One more final post later in the week as I reflect back on the past year.

If I am reading today’s surah correctly, there is a note of acceptance of other religions in what we read today.  Here’s what I am seeing:

  • There is a continuity between the prophetic spirit that inspired Muhammad and that which spoke through the biblical prophets of old, from the religions typically called the “People of the Book” elsewhere in the Qur’an (42:3).
  • The “commandment” that was given to Muhammad is the same one given to Noah, Abraham, and Jesus: “Uphold the faith and do not divide into factions within it.” (42:13)
  • God is the Lord of both groups (42:15)
  • Both will be “gathered together” to a common destiny (42:15)
  • Both have a common hope in the Last Hour (42:18)

That sounds like a generous inclusion based on a common faith even if we do not disagree on lesser specifics.

I am a committed Christian.  I am fiercely devoted to a God who has made himself known to this world through Jesus Christ.  I believe there is one God and this God alone is worthy of our devotion.  I believe the proper response to the great grace of God shown through Jesus Christ is to live a righteous life showing love to God through purity and self-sacrifice and love to others through service and compassion.

So, am I an acceptable believer, as far as a devoted Muslim is concerned?

In 613 CE, the Byzantine armies were defeated in a significant way by the Persian armies in Syria.  This is the immediate background of this new surah and mention of the battle is made in the first few ayahs.  It is revealed here that there will soon be a change of fortunes and that the Persians will fall to the Byzantines once again.  By the early 620s CE, this is exactly what happened.  Interestingly, the Byzantines that are being mentioned here are Christians, not Muslims.  The Persians were not Muslims either; they were Zoroastrian.  Is this a note of support for the Christians?  The main point: God is in control of all things.

The rest of the surah is much the same message we have been seeing over and over again.  However, I guess I can see in this surah what Dean meant in his comment on this post about how the overall message of a surah may be similar to many others but the specific context causes the nuances of new meaning to come out.

Now, let me put a single ayah in juxtaposition to the seeming preference given to the Christians in this surah:

So [Prophet] as a man of pure faith, stand firm and true in your devotion to the religion.  This is the natural devotion to the religion.  This is the natural disposition God instilled in mankind — there is no altering God’s creation — and this is the right religion, though most people do not realize it. (30:30)

I guess it is possible that Christianity and Judaism were seen as under that umbrella of “right religion” in this surah given their common devotion to God, commitment to monotheism, and “the Book” (though differently defined).  But I suspect that was not the case.  I am not interested at this point in doing anything other than making one observation.

In popular American culture, traditional Christians are viewed as narrow-minded exclusivists who believe their religion is the one “right religion.”  With a verse like this one it is hard to deny the exclusivism that seems to be in traditional Christianity:

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

But those who object to the seeming exclusivity of Christianity are not quick to point out how this is also true of other religions.  What Buddhist believes that the teachings of the Buddha can be totally ignored and one still find nirvana?  What religious Jew is comfortable with adding Jesus to the concept of divinity?  What pagan wants to accept monotheism?  What atheist is willing to concede the existence of a god?  Does a relativistic pluralist not believe that he has discovered an absolute truth?  Do not most religious people believe that their way is the right way?

What is clear in this Quranic passage is that Muslims do.

There are lots of reasons people give for not believing in God.  Four popular reasons are voiced by the disbelieving Meccans in today’s reading.

1.  The Argument of Rationalism

Man says, “What?  Once I am dead, will I be brought back to life?” (19:66)

This argument says your beliefs are ridiculous.  Dead people brought back to life again?  You are crazy!  That doesn’t happen.  Death is the end.  When was the last time you saw someone do that?  Use your head.  Reason it out.  We are too smart, too advanced for primitive superstitions and wishful thinking. 

2.  The Argument of Materialism

The disbelievers say to the believers, “Which side is better situated [with “riches and outward glitter”]?  Which side has the better following?” (19:73)

People with this perspective respond with the claim that their life is already better than those with faith.  They say we are richer, happier, and more popular.  We have a better life than what you are offering.  I don’t need what you are offering.  I’ve got it all right now.  If anything, your religion will make me sacrifice some of these things that make me happy.       

3.  The Argument of Pragmatism

Have you seen the man who rejects Our revelation, who says, “I will certainly be given wealth and children”? (19:77)

Everything will be fine without your God, they say.  My way of living is working just fine.  God is not necessary in life.  I make money just fine without your God.  I have wonderful kids who are healthy, and your God has nothing to do with it.  Who needs God?  The proof is in the pudding.  I’ve got all I need already. 

4.  The Argument of Pluralism

The disbelievers say, “The Lord of Mercy has offspring.” (19:88)

This argument claims there are many religious options, not just your one.  You think your God is the only one, but I think my god is a daughter of your God.  Seriously, there can’t just be one way.  Sure, there is one supreme power but it takes a lot of forms.  You have your god and I have mine.  Don’t be so narrow-minded.  Let’s just coexist.  You go your way up the mountain and I’ll go mine — see you at the top! 

Allah doesn’t take on the disbelievers’ arguments in this passage. He simply says that they will see the error of their ways in the end.  This takes us back to a point we keep coming back to: belief has a whole lot to do with desire.  Do we want to believe?  Ayah 76 says it this way:

God gives more guidance to those who take guidance.

Faith: you get it when you want to get it.

Today’s section begins with what can only be seen as another attack on Christianity:

They say, “God has children!  May He be exalted!  He is the Self-Sufficient One; everything in the heavens and the earth belongs to Him.”  You have no authority to say this.  How dare you say things about God without any knowledge?  Say [Prophet], “Those who invent lies about God will not prosper.”  They may have a little enjoyment in this world, but then they will return to Us.  Then We shall make them taste severe torment for persisting in blasphemy. (10:68-70)

The belief that God has a “son” named Jesus is deemed “unauthorized,” a “lie,” and “blasphemous” (10:70).  It would seem that as long as this is a view that Muslims adopt, it would be hard for Christians and Muslims to find acceptance for each other’s religions.  Of course, that does not preclude civility or even cooperation.

The majority of today’s reading is a further reiteration that disbelievers have been amply warned that to reject Muhammad and his Qur’an will bring punishment.  Back to the apologetic tone earlier in the surah, there have been many signs that point to the One True God.  Even nature testifies to God (10:100).  As Pat commented on this recent post, this sounds a lot like Romans 1:20:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

A regrettable fact is asserted in 10:96-97:

Those against whom your Lord’s sentence is passed will not believe, even if every sign comes to them, until they see the agonizing torment.

Show any sign you want or say anything you can to persuade, there are some who will simply not believe until they are on the cusp or punishment and then it will be too late.  According to this passage, this is what Pharaoh did during the Exodus and his seeming penitence was unacceptable to God (10:90-92).

We have all met people like this, haven’t we?  People who seem to be able to refute every argument.  People who can always see a hole in an argument or who will “create” a hole most of us can’t see to begin with.  It is almost as if people of this sort simply do not want to believe.  Sadly, in some cases, that is probably exactly true.

The surah ends with Muhammad being told to wash his hands of the matter (10:108).  His people have been warned.  It is up to them now.

A couple of you mentioned being behind in your reading of the Qur’an, so here is a day to catch up if you are trying to do that!  No new reading for today (which I need too). 

A lot of what we have been reading recently has to do with how Muslims are to relate to Jews and Christians.  This news story carries the debate out of the Qur’an and into the streets of my hometown. 

Members of the Memphis Islamic Center pray at Heartsong Church in Cordova while their mosque is under construction. (Nikki Boertman/The Commercial Appeal)

Past (and future?) presidential candidate Mike Huckabee castigates Christians, including one church here in Memphis, who open their church buildings to Muslims in which to worship while they build mosques.  Check out the video here .

On the entirely opposite end of the spectrum is this article from the USA Today about this same act of hospitality in Memphis, and this article from David Waters, a local religion reporter on this same Muslim community.  Or check out the video on this site from a Memphis news channel. 

What do you think?

Yesterday I had hope that Islam might be able to find a place at their table for me, a Christian.  Today, I am condemned once again:

Those who say, “God is the Messiah, son of Mary,” have defied God.  The Messiah himself said, “Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord.”  If anyone associates others with God, God will forbid him from the Garden, and Hell will be his home.  No one will help [such] evildoers.  Those people who say that God is the third of three are defying [the truth]: there is only One God.  If they do not stop what they are saying, a painful punishment will afflict those of them who persist.  (5:72-73)

Then a few ayahs later we come to this passage, and the “generous” side of Islam comes out again:

You are sure to find that the closest in affection towards the believers are those who say, “we are Christians,” for there are among them people devoted to learning and ascetics.  These people are not given to arrogance, and when they listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger [Muhammad], you will see their eyes overflowing with tears because they recognize the Truth [in it].  They say, “Our Lord, we believe, so count us amongst the witnesses.  Why should we not believe in God and in the Truth that has come down to us, when we long for our Lord to include us in the company of the righteous?”  For saying this, God has rewarded them with Gardens graced with flowing streams, and there they will stay: that is the reward of those who do good. (5:82-85) 

Committed to learning, inclined towards a simple life, devoid of arrogance, inclined to listen to those with whom one disagrees, one who recognizes Truth no matter what religious garb in which it may come, faithful in doing good — these are all descriptions of the kind of person I want to be.  For these kind of Christians the Qur’an is willing to extend the hope of the Garden of reward. 

But how can these two passages go together?  What do you think?

It seems the Qur’an likes the way devoted Christians live, in other words when we live the way Christ lived.  There is just this wish that we would see Jesus for what the Qur’an contends he really was: a prophet, a son of Mary, a man and only a man. 

But then I guess I would say the same: I admire devoted Muslims who truly live their religion of total submission to God (islam).  I just wish they would see Jesus for who he really is.